Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (revised edition)

Tony Lee Moral,
Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (revised edition)
The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Toronto & Plymouth, UK, 2013
ISBN:  978-0-8108-9107-4
(Review copy supplied by Scarecrow Press)

It is one of the great ironies that Alfred Hitchcock, the so-called Master of Suspense, couldn’t stand suspense in his own life, so much so that it would make him physically sick. During the filming of Marnie (1964) he became so perturbed by the mysterious behaviour of members of his production team that he came home from the studio and told his wife Alma that he was convinced they were withholding something from him.  Upon investigation, Alma learned that his crew were planning to throw a surprise party for him, whereupon she immediately ordered them to call the whole thing off. As told by Alma, this is one of many revealing anecdotes on the director featured in Tony Lee Moral’s Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie. By most accounts, Hitchcock was controlling, and Moral traces his obsession with order and control both on and off set to his Jesuit education and upbringing. And for a director otherwise known for leaving his actors to their own devices, provided they adhered to the law of his camera, this control extended to his ingénue, Tippi Hedren, in the title role. The strained relations between director and star are now the stuff of Hollywood legend, recently exploited in HBO’s muckraking The Girl (2012) which has again focused attention on Hitchcock and Marnie. First published in 2002, now revised with additional material, Moral’s book comes at a time which seems ripe for individual making-of accounts of Hitchcock films, including the author’s latest effort The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds (2013) and Raymond Foery’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy: The Last Masterpiece  (2012). Of course the benchmark for this sort of Hitchcockian film history and scholarship remains Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990), which was followed by film historian Dan Auiler’s meticulously detailed account Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998). While Moral’s book deserves to be reissued, does its additional material (‘four new chapters’) earn its place to further illumine our understanding of Hitchcock’s “late, flawed masterpiece”?

Moral chronologically charts the making of the film, from: its genesis in Winston Graham’s novel, the film rights which Hitchcock had acquired as a vehicle to lure Princess Grace of Monaco aka Grace Kelly out of retirement (she declined for complex reasons); its convoluted screenwriting history, including individual treatments by Joseph Stefano and Evan Hunter, who fell out with Hitchcock over the controversial honeymoon rape scene, before Hitchcock offered the job to up-and-coming playwright Jay Presson Allen; aspects of preproduction, including casting, art direction (which included sophisticated colour schemes), extensive storyboarding (a selection of which is reproduced in the book), costuming, hairstyles and makeup; the actual filming; postproduction, where both Allen and Alma Hitchcock provided valuable feedback on the cutting of the film; along with marketing and reception. In the process, Moral sheds important light on Hitchcock’s working methods rooted firmly in his need for control. For better or for worse, this control was reflected in his preference for the film studio/soundstage over and above location shooting, which was already by the 1960s considered outdated and would arguably mar Hitch’s late 1960s output. Particularly maligned by critics was the painted backdrop of the looming ship near Marnie’s mother’s house in Baltimore. Production designer Robert Boyle, cameraman Robert Burks and assistant director James H. Brown were all unhappy with the results. But, more concerned with the overall effect than with technical perfection, Hitchcock ignored appeals to reshoot the set. And while the late critic Robin Wood famously championed the ship backdrop as well as other “artificial” devices such as obvious back projection in the horse riding sequences, which he explained in terms of the eponymous heroine’s “unreality”, this line of interpretation was later met with scepticism by critics such as Donald Spoto. In 1966 Peter Bogdanovich asked Hitchcock whether he intended this back projection effect in the riding sequences, and Hitchcock replied “‘I think it’s a very good idea’” (236), eliciting seemingly sceptical laughter from both men. Comments Moral: “The assumption is that Hitchcock never thought of that when he was making the film and that Wood was overreaching in his interpretation. Bob Boyle also dismissed the theory when this author asked him in 2000” (236). Hitchcock further admitted to Bogdanovich that the ship backdrop “wasn’t well done” (235). Also in 1966 Hitchcock attended a Q&A session with students from Harvard University. When asked if the “obvious unreality” of the process and matte work was meant to signify Marnie’s “world of illusion,” à la Wood, the director replied: “Yes.  I think so” (237). It seems that Hitchcock typically gave his questioners the answers they wanted to hear.

However, beyond these over-determined explanations where one wishes that Moral had taken a stronger stand instead of confusing both himself and his readers, he ultimately agrees with Wood that Marnie’s departures from reality were not accidental but integral to the director’s overall vision, a vision influenced by his apprenticeship in German Expressionist cinema.   For Moral, the “highly expressive mise-en-scène in Marnie, with its red suffusions [whenever Marnie has one of her “breakdowns”], painted backdrops, and conspicuous rear projection, contributes to a dream-like state that exists between reality and theatricality” (165). He thus dismisses Spoto’s claims that Hitchcock neglected the final product after his falling out with Hedren, since the “‘technical blunders’” (158) Spoto alleges or, rather, self-conscious expressionistic elements “were inherent in the overall design of the film and detailed during preproduction” (158).  Also, like Wood, he argues that “Marnie, as an art film, is the culmination of Hitchcock’s concept of ‘pure cinema’” (xiii), more the work of a modernist than realist, showing the influence of the European art house scene and Antonioni in particular. Moreover, this film “was part of a larger campaign by Hitchcock to be taken seriously as an artist” (xiii), not merely as a showman or entertainer. Or, perhaps one should say, artiste.  For the French connection, which comprised the influential critics of Cahiers du cinéma most vocally, critic-turned-filmmaker Truffaut whose interviews with the director remain essential reading – underpinned this critical reappraisal of Hitchcock, under the aegis of auteur theory.  According to Moral:  “The self-interested campaigning by Francois Truffaut, who himself wanted to be regarded as a film auteur in the same way that he perceived Hitchcock, was instrumental in Marnie’s marketing campaign” (142), comprising the official press kit and showman’s manual.  Yet this marketing strategy backfired, some critics suggesting that Hitchcock was listening too much to the French critics and taking himself too seriously. As Hitchcock’s late-career bid for artistic credibility, the consensus is that Marnie was “a commercial as well as critical failure” (vii) although it was hardly an unmitigated disaster. (Comparing an ‘art film’ with the box-office smash Goldfinger [1964] seems, well, unfair). The film made up its production costs and even turned a modest profit, as well as earned positive notices in the Motion Picture Daily, New York Post and Los Angeles Times. And just as film criticism has changed so has the general attitude to Marnie, though Moral seems to be underestimating the current status of the film with his contention that in the US and France especially it has “grown to be a cult film rather than a fully acknowledged masterpiece” (157).

In making a case for Marnie as one of Hitchcock’s most personal films Moral adheres to a somewhat predictable films-as-autobiography understanding of auteur theory. There is an almost triumphant “aha” moment from Moral when he declares that:

Hitchcock was Marnie. He identified strongly with the character, her open pleas for love and acceptance, her shyness, repression, fear of sex, and her hang-ups about class. Hitchcock was much more like Marnie than Mark. She was a mass of contradictions and complexities just like the director was.

As a child, Hitchcock, like Marnie, invented stories and identities and lived in his own dream world. Just like Marnie uses her riding for retreat, Hitchcock escaped to cinema and theatre.  (253)

Afterwards, he connects Marnie’s fear of being caught by the police with an incident which Hitchcock liked to tell about his father having him locked in a jail cell as a little boy, in order to teach him a “lesson”:  “This was long before the days of identified child abuse, and Hitchcock himself told the story to explain his lifelong fear of police. Certainly that trauma could have been more far-reaching and may have been in the director’s mind when he made Marnie. With this film Hitchcock was on a quest for his own identity” (253-4). Certainly the incident is suggestive, but more work needs to be done to highlight both ruptures and continuities in that autobiographical vision. It is not so much that Moral is possibly overreaching in his interpretation here, but that his application of auteur theory is simplistic.

While Moral does signal his departure from “conventional” auteurist assumptions with his highlighting of “multivocality in the Marnie text” (xii), other key figures – notably Graham and Allen – are given the straight autobiographical treatment. Thus Moral traces the quasi-feminist orientation of Graham (a self-described “instinctual feminist” [6]) and Allen to suggestive aspects of their upbringing/background. Hitchcock hired Allen to bring a much-needed “woman’s voice” to the screenplay (her first) which she would come to regard with extreme self-criticism.  “But Marnie remains the most fully autobiographical of Allen’s scripts – maybe that’s why she didn’t like it?” (195), theorizes Moral. In light of new information, he provides the corrective that, despite identifying with the Marnie character, neither writer could be regarded as a bona fide feminist. Indeed, he suggests that Allen in particular was more attuned to the male point of view of Mark Rutland (played by Sean Connery, fresh from his second Bond outing, From Russia with Love (1963), who brought tried-and-tested sadomasochism to the role of Marnie’s sexually frustrated husband), resulting in fascinating ruptures between these competing voices within the finished film. Alas, Moral fails to unpack this in relation to the “Marnie text.” One cannot deny that his book’s additional material does advance our understanding of Marnie’s writing, production and reception but it is a pity that Moral didn’t make more of an effort to merge this material with the text from the original edition. As it stands, there is much overlap in these new chapters (most distractingly, repeated quotes). Content in the chapter on ‘A Woman’s Voice’ could have been easily incorporated into the earlier chapter on the writing of Marnie; while ‘Through the Lens’, which considers how Hitch achieved his radically “subjective treatment” with the aid of his regular cameraman, Burks, could have been worked into the earlier chapter on shooting the film.

Further, a chapter on Hitchcock’s obsession with filming J.M. Barrie’s play Mary Rose seems like a lengthy digression in a book on the making of Marnie. Material on Barrie’s life, on the various inspirations for Mary Rose, and on the play’s initial 1920/1921 production and mixed reception, is altogether overelaborate. Much better to stay focused on the Hitchcock connection: how the young theatre-going Alfred was present at the play’s London opening and became so enthralled by it that years later he had a member of his staff track down a record of the soundtrack/special effects, which he then gave to composer Bernard Herrmann as inspiration for the haunting score of Vertigo (1958). And how in mid-1963 he sought the film rights to Mary Rose as his next project after Marnie and proceeded to scout the Outer Hebrides with Alma for possible locations for “Mary Rose island.” He also hired Allen to produce a treatment. The idea that Hitchcock’s Universal contract stipulated that he could make any film for under $3 million provided it wasn’t Mary Rose was probably not true, but over the years the unrealized project has attained an almost tragic status: as the film he dearly wanted to make but couldn’t. As Moral and others have argued, the failure of Marnie probably spelled the death knell for Mary Rose. Mentioning further abortive attempts from Jay Presson and her producer husband Lewis Allen to revive the project without Hitchcock, Moral concedes “the problem with Mary Rose all along”: “Although haunting and beautiful, it was considered just too un-commercial a project to attract investors, especially in the 1980s. As the years progressed, time was not kind to Mary Rose, the story became more old-fashioned, whimsical, and dated” (216). Of course, this assessment overlooks how a visionary director like Hitchcock was more than capable of reworking “old-fashioned” material for a modern audience (cf.  I Confess [1953], based on Paul Anthelme’s 1902 play Nos deux consciences). At the beginning of the chapter, Moral asks, appositely, “how is Mary Rose connected to Hitchcock’s masterpieces Vertigo and Marnie, two of his most intensely personal films?” (197). But, apart from offering historical and biographical data and a couple of passing statements about “longing, regret, and yearning” (197), he doesn’t really answer his own question. Reprehensibly, he fails to analyse Allen’s drafts of the screenplay, surely a valuable resource on Hitchcock’s approach to the source material. A lost opportunity!

Moral draws on important sources such as contemporary reviews, Wood’s book-length study, Spoto’s biography and the work of Tania Modleski but, overall, the book feels light on academic criticism. What is more, Moral is not always forthcoming about his sources and influences. In his review of the 2002 edition of the book for the Hitchcock Annual, Professor Joe McElhaney noted how Moral “lifts a sentence (and a major argument) from my own essay on Marnie without citation” (239) and, while he was very forgiving, Moral hasn’t mended his ways for the revised edition. On the subject of Mary Rose, he writes what we are meant to assume are his own thoughts and words: “Universal vetoed the project, worried that a melancholy and sentimental film about a ghost would further diminish the box office value of the Hitchcock brand” (209). Compare this with William Rothman’s sentence from his 2011 essay, ‘The Universal Hitchcock’: “Sadly, however, Universal vetoed the project, concerned that such a melancholy film would further diminish the box-office value of the Hitchcock brand” (356). Such disingenuous “borrowings” do not inspire confidence and make us question the author’s claims to originality.

Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay to Moral’s book on the making of Marnie is that one comes away with a greater appreciation for a previously marginalised film in the Hitchcock canon.  And despite the doubling up of material for the revised edition, which makes reading the last third or so of the book something of an exercise in déjà vu, Moral’s “newly obtained access” to the Hitchcock Collection Production Archives at the Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles, coupled with his interviews with the actors, writers and members of the production team make this a valuable treatise on the making of the film. Moral is most knowledgeable when he is describing the different phases of writing, production and postproduction and building up a profile of Hitchcock’s working methods. But for those seeking greater academic rigour, Moral will inevitably disappoint because of his seeming reluctance to bring the archival material and oral history to bear on the film itself – i.e. the film as text where he makes a habit of stopping at the point in his analysis where he should begin. Thus, purely as film history Moral’s book succeeds, but given the riches that he had to work with, it could have been much more: an illuminating work of both history and criticism.



Joe EcElhaney, Review of Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie, by Tony Lee Moral. Hitchcock Annual 11: 2002/2003, pp. 235-239.

William Rothman, “The Universal Hitchcock.”  In A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock, edited by Thomas Leitch and Leland Poague, (Chichester, West Sussex, UK ; Malden, MA : Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), pp. 347-364.

About the Author

Adrian Schober

About the Author

Adrian Schober

Adrian Schober, who received his PhD in English from Monash University, Australia, is the author of Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). He has published in a range of literature- and film-based journals and his most recent essay, “Renegotiating Romanticism and the All-American Boy Child: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry” appears in Issue 68 of Senses of Cinema, September 2013. He also serves on the editorial board of Red Feather: An International Journal of Children’s Visual Culture.View all posts by Adrian Schober →